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Fitness for All 

Body Arc offers folks of all sizes and genders a safe space to get healthy.

click to enlarge Owner Brandi Walker says that at her gym, Body Arc, “it’s important for us to create comfort for our trans and nonbinary clients because so often in fitness, and in the medical field, they are not treated well and their experiences aren't validated.”

Scott Elmquist

Owner Brandi Walker says that at her gym, Body Arc, “it’s important for us to create comfort for our trans and nonbinary clients because so often in fitness, and in the medical field, they are not treated well and their experiences aren't validated.”

When Brandi Walker first opened Body Arc one year ago, the fitness studio was the realization of a dream she first spoke into existence years ago. As a queer-owned gym in Richmond, Body Arc takes a different approach to the concepts of health and strength — one devoid of the body shaming and toxic masculinity that keep millions of Americans from focusing on their fitness despite their well intended New Year’s resolutions.

Even the name of Walker’s gym reflects her belief that every person’s body has its own journey. “Each narrative has its own unique arc, and that’s true for people and their bodies as well,” she says. “We look at each person we help as individuals instead of generalizing them, like is so often done in this industry.”

The extra attention Walker and her trainers give to the backstory and goals of their clients arises out of her own harrowing history trying to be healthy. As a teenager, she struggled with her body image, suffering from the beginnings of an eating disorder as well as severe body dysmorphia. Each trend and diet she tried only inflicted more harm.

When Walker discovered weightlifting in college, however, that all changed. Her personal empowerment quickly transformed into a job as a professional trainer, but the practices of the company she worked for didn’t align with her ethics.

“I saw a lot of issues of clients being taken advantage of, and I felt limited in how I could work with people and help them,” said Walker. “I started training people independently because I didn’t like that system.”

Trainer autonomy

When the pandemic hit and Walker got laid off at work, she took it as a sign to take the plunge and open her own gym. Tired of toxic masculinity and unrealistic body expectations, she had long dreamed of a safe space for fitness full of queer and trauma-informed trainers that could serve more than the standard gym-goers.

“There aren’t a lot of spaces for independent trainers to take clients around Richmond, and they’re often priced ridiculously,” Walker says. “That’s why at Body Arc, I allow trainers full autonomy to run their own business and make their own rates. We offer one on one personal training, small group training, partner training, and sometimes we do have some events and larger group classes.”

One consistent event Body Arc hosts is a monthly yoga class with RVA Fatties, a local body positive group run by fat influencer Sean Taylor. Given Walker’s focus on gauging how folks feel to measure their health versus just judging one’s appearance, the partnership is proving a perfect pairing.

“It’s so common that shame is associated with bodies that don’t conform with current beauty standards, especially with larger bodies,” says Walker. “In other spaces it's common to set goals around measurements like weight, but we don’t do that. We focus on how the client can enrich their life with movement and improve their health because that is much more sustainable.”

Body Arc clients begin their journey with a quick online questionnaire to gauge their availability, price range, and health goals to help Walker match them to the right trainer for their needs. For folks who would rather work out on their own but still have access to top notch equipment, Body Arc offers a more affordable membership option.

Body Arc also onboards new trainers in a similar fashion with a quick questionnaire and a follow-up conversation to see if the gym and trainer share the same mission. For trainers who are new to the industry, Walker also gives out business guidance and only takes a percentage of their earnings as commission. For professional trainers, the flat rate is often easier.

click to enlarge Body Arc is located at 131 Richmond Hwy, Richmond, VA 23224. - SCOTT ELMQUIST
  • Scott Elmquist
  • Body Arc is located at 131 Richmond Hwy, Richmond, VA 23224.

Empowering LGBTQ+

As a queer-owned establishment, Body Arc is especially keen to make sure LGBTQ+ people are treated right while training. With a wide array of transgender, queer, and nonbinary trainers, the Blackwell gym aims to empower, not intimidate.

“It’s important for us to create comfort for our trans and nonbinary clients because so often in fitness, and in the medical field, they are not treated well and their experiences aren't validated,” explains Walker.

The requests to use Body Arc as a safe space for all kinds of other events from birthdays to potlucks and parties have been so frequent that Walker is looking into opening a rentable venue just down the road to accommodate occasions that aren’t suited for a gym. Her new space will be queer and benefiting BIPOC and others who are underserved in the community, she tells Style.

Unlike other gyms that are adorned with images of body types unattainable to most Americans, the walls of murals at Body Arc evoke the feeling of a sunrise. From the gym’s aesthetic to the approach of its trainers, Walker is proud that her first ever business is bringing people to fitness who may otherwise have never left their house.

“It’s incredible the community that has been created here in just one year,” she says. “We are always keeping our eyes open for new trainers and clients that share our values. Our motto here is: Let’s be weird in this space.”

Body Arc is located at 131 Richmond Hwy, Richmond, VA 23224.

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